Updates from the NovusWay Board

The NovusWay Board offers updates from their recent meeting regarding Lutheranch and Luther Springs.

March 11, 2024 |

Image credit: Collins Cooper Carusi Architects

Dear NovusWay Family,

Over the last several months, we, as the Board of Directors for NovusWay and our co-CEOs Mike and Mitzie, have shared multiple announcements outlining the current financial realities for the ministry and the steps taken to help mitigate them and place the ministry on a path of sustainability. Today, we share two additional milestone decisions made at this weekend’s board meeting. Both decisions were made to help position each of our sites and the overall ministry for years of forming faith, developing leaders, building community, and providing sabbath rest.

First, news related to Luther Springs. Ms. Sarah Anderson, co-Executive Director at Springs, received an unsolicited inquiry from a group working to preserve the natural environment in Florida. They want to purchase 155.9 acres of wetland and swamp at Luther Springs to add to their growing conservation easement. Our Planning and Review Committee chair, Tom O’Reilly, has worked closely with the buyers. “Luther Springs is currently estimated at 360 acres. We will retain around 204 acres. We aren’t currently using the property because it is not maintained for recreational use. This group has the resources to implement the regular burns necessary to bring new life and remove the underbrush. This work is part of their greater mission.” After research and prayerful discussion, the board passed a motion to move forward with the sale in a way that ensures the property is protected and includes our ability to use the property for recreational purposes. The sale proceeds will help pay back some recent endowment borrowing.

“I am all for this,” said Bishop Pedro Suárez of the Florida-Bahama Synod of the ELCA. Bishop Suárez attended the meeting. “We see this as a way to join with this group in caring for God’s creation while also protecting the camp’s boundaries.”

Second, we received the comprehensive report from the Lutheranch Vision Task Force. Thank you to everyone who shared your thoughts through their survey. They met with professionals in the camping and property worlds and evaluated annual usage. They revisited the history of Lutheranch and the current debt load on the property. “The fact that everyone on the task force had a different memory of the original intent was telling for me,” said Ranate Patrick, our board member serving on the task force.

On January 28, 2011, the debt was $2.6 million. A generous friend of the ministry took on the debt, and because of that, we have paid little interest. The original idea was to repay the debt with revenue from retreat rentals and campaigns. This has not worked, and Lutheranch currently carries a $2.1 million debt load. We need to make the required progress toward eliminating the debt to move forward with developing the site.

At our meeting on March 8th held at Lutheranch, we prayerfully considered the unanimous recommendation of the Lutheranch Vision Task Force to sell the northern part of the property. For the long-term health of the ministry, the Board voted to accept the recommendation. Property boundaries have been recommended with input from the Master Site Planner, Paul Briggs, using the stream as the boundary line. The Task Force members who also served as part of the original planning of Lutheranch feel this returns us to the site’s original vision and leaves more than enough land to meet our needs far into the future. The following may be helpful in understanding this decision:

A ranch was never part of the original plan. The property happened to contain a ranch that was to be operated by a donor who didn’t deliver on the original gift intent.
Based on your responses to the survey, the constituency strongly desires to develop Lutheranch’s year-round use further. However, the debt has inhibited our ability to do this.
NovusWay has operated with an annual deficit for many years. The best option for financial strength is to remove the land debt and develop the site to maximize occupancy.
The site’s occupancy rate must increase to bring back full-time program leadership. With the debt gone, facilities can be developed through the next campaign to reach a sustainable model.
Lutheranch will maintain over 250 acres.

We have been advised that the proceeds from the sale of the northern section should cover the total cost of the loan, and that is how it will be used.
“Change is hard,” shared Bishop Kevin Strickland of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA. “But I see this decision to sell a section of the property as one of hope for Lutheranch. This will pave the way for ministry to progress and continue for years to come.”

We are grateful for the Task Force’s work in reaching this recommendation. Most of the Task Force members have agreed to continue serving and begin working with the Master Planner to envision the full development of Lutheranch. We have invited Shane Dathe, the Lutheranch Operations Director who lives on-site, to join the team. The sale of the northern section will mean the loss of the Holy Trinity House and the Operation Director’s Residence, so replacement facilities must be envisioned for the reimagined Lutheranch. The new Master Plan will be shared with the constituency later this year or early 2025. A campaign to implement the most pressing projects will likely occur in 2026. In previous campaigns, naming opportunities were provided for land features and facilities that will no longer be part of the property. The staff is working on acceptable alternatives for these and will communicate directly with donors.

“God’s Spirit was evident throughout the work of the Lutheranch Vision Task Group and the board’s consideration of it,” said Mike Ward, co-CEO. “Their care and passion for Lutheranch and a vibrant future for our ministry there and across NovusWay were evident throughout all our work together. They all want what is best for Lutheranch and believe that this decision will enable the ministry to become what we have all dreamed it would be. Mitzie and I fully support their decision.”

We know this will be a loss for many, as it is for us, who love the site and have memories of the barn and Holy Trinity House. We trust that God will bring new life from this difficult decision. As we gathered at Lutheranch this weekend, we met, ate, fellowshipped, and worshiped in the shared company of a group of men on a faith formation retreat. This decision positions Lutheranch and all of NovusWay to thrive long into the future. This will provide a more straightforward path for Lutheranch to grow and develop free from the burden of significant indebtedness. If you have questions regarding either of these decisions, we invite you to contact Mike (ward@gsbfr.com) or Mitzie (mitzie@gsbfr.com) directly. We remain grateful for your partnership in this ministry.

In Christ,

The Members of the NovusWay Board of Directors

Attribution:

NovusWay Board of Directors

NovusWay Lutheranch Update

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